CBS Sees Colbert Drawing Ad Dollars

As it gets ready to launch Stephen Colbert’s new late night show, CBS is expecting to be able to increase its share of ad dollars in the daypart.

While primetime viewers get older and less attractive to marketers, commercials in late night have been in demand by a broader range of advertisers.

And with curmudgeonly genius David Letterman being replaced by a more eager Colbert, CBS is expected to be able to feature advertisers more prominently in the show and get higher rates. “We’ll give Fallon and Kimmel a run for their money,” said Jo Ann Ross, president of ad sales at CBS, referring to the late night hosts on NBC and ABC.

With Colbert and James Corden, who began hosting the Late Late Show in the spring, replacing Craig Ferguson, CBS collected a “significantly” higher volume of ad dollars in late night based on what are expected to be bigger ratings. “We’re selling higher numbers than their predecessors and people are willing to pay for it because the CPMs [ad rates based on thousands of viewers] increased. We had a very strong upfront with no pushback,” Ross said.

Even before his TV show launches on Sept. 8, Colbert has a sponsor for his promotional website in New York Life, which is the site’s exclusive advertiser running both video and display ads.

Chris Simon, executive VP for ad sales, says New York Life is the kind of advertiser and product category that hadn’t been interested in late night before.

Other categories that will be prominent when Colbert launches will include automakers, entertainment companies, technology and restaurants.

Some of those sponsors might be integrated into the show. The exemplar for involvement is the bar on the set of Corden’s show, which is sponsored by Budweiser and Bud Light. Such integrations often carry a premium price. “It’s the only bar out there in the late night space and it carries a value that reflects that,” said Martin Daly, CBS senior VP for news and late night sales.

Corden has also done other integrations with advertisers. “These are emblematic of what we are going to be doing going forward with hopefully both Corden and Colbert,” Ross said. But she declined to identify any advertisers that might have signed on before the show’s premiere.

While Letterman was somewhat standoffish regarding sponsors, Colbert made appearances at CBS’ development meetings with advertisers in New York and Los Angeles. At the time, Colbert was sporting his “Col-beard,” and Ross said she didn’t recognize the late-night star sitting in the front row. His appearance “spoke volumes to the advertising community that he actually was there and willing to answer any questions and just put himself out there,” Ross said.

Colbert also appeared at the CBS upfront, joking—maybe—about his willingness to work with sponsors. “I’m willing to go the extra mile,” he said, joking that his show could wind up being called Black & Decker’s The Late Show with Stephen Cordlessdrill.

Colbert and Corden also have big digital and social presences that will be of interest to advertisers. “Corden has been from a digital perspective a home run,” said Dave Morris, chief revenue officer, CBS Interactive. “He’s got 900K followers on YouTube and he’s had social sensations with some of his clips.”

CBS has announced that Colbert’s first guests will be George Clooney and Jeb Bush. Also appearing on the show the first week are businessmen Elon Musk of Tesla Motors and Travis Kalanick of Uber.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.